It’s 2020 and it’s finally the year Jil Jung Juk (2016) is set in. Tamil cinema’s first (and only) futuristic Western is one of those films that was ‘ahead of its time’ by arguably the shortest duration. By which, I mean that if the film had released now (in the year it is set in) it may have fared better than it did all those (okay, four) years ago. Because, it feels like one of those films that was designed for Netflix. It’s NOT a film you can watch any time. It’s also not a ‘theatre film’ in the way it demands all that effort to book tickets, park your bike, buy popcorn, find your seat, get stepped-on, sit through all those EPS/OPS ads for it to finally begin. Ideal viewing for Jil Jung Juk is one of those hazy evenings with very like-minded friends when you’ve gone a bit overboard on Swiggy, preferably with a flickery lava lamp for mood.
Because Jil Jung Juk is a mood, not just in terms of what it tries to create, but also for the super-specific, once-in-six-months sort of mood you need to be in to truly indulge it. I say this, because I hated the film the first time I watched it. To (needlessly) explain this further, it’s like the restaurant you travel an hour to reach, not because they serve amazing biriyani or the crispiest paper roast; you go there because they have this unidentifiable (pinkish/orangish) chutney that NO other place serves. Which means that you’re too uptight if you watch this film expecting boring things such as story, plot, character development and relatability.
Pause and rewind buttons too are musts to keep up with the film’s 100-quirks-per-second pacing. So in the poker game eagerly on, you don’t want to miss a pissed-off RJ Balaji telling Nasser, “Vaa ya en thevar mavane,” even as the game’s secret cheat-code has been set to Harris Jayaraj’s ‘Partha Mudhal Naale’. You also don’t want to miss out when the camera lingers on Siddharth for a microsecond longer as he describes his ‘Secret of Success’, as his phone starts ringing to Malaysia Vasudevan’s ‘Daddy Daddy Oh My Daddy’.
References and mini tributes are everywhere, like when Jung (Avinash Raghudevan) describes himself as a huge fan of both Jaishankar and a pornstar named Jessie Hunger. In ‘Red Road’, a group of faceless bikers align to group-salute to an image/hallucination of ‘Thala’ Ajith. It even uses Jil’s Thaatha sothu, an heirloom pistol, as the film’s Checkov’s gun.
In terms of plot, the film keeps things basic…a package (cocaine) belonging to gang boss Deva needs to be transported by Jil, Jung and Juk to a group of well-dressed Chinese traders in Hyderabad. But the transport becomes the package when a coat of this cocaine gets painted over their pink Ambassdor. The film too gets a coat of pink with the colour overpowering some of the film’s most important scenes. In terms of plot points, the film’s second act or the confrontation, literally begins with Jil describing the plot of Butterfly Effect (‘Oh Butterfly’ from Meera plays in the background), an English film he recently watched. The effect also makes a return when the flap of a butterfly’s wing sets off a hilarious series of events.
But it’s the characters that really set this film apart. Like a gangster named ‘Attack’ or ‘Rolex’ Rawther (Radha Ravi) who is, ironically, running out of time. The scene where he gets to know of his disease is comedy gold. When a Mallu doctor named Dr. Kottalakkal tells Rawther that he has prostate cancer, the latter hears ‘prostitute’ and nothing more. So, to explain his condition better, the doctor slowly runs his finger over his own name (kotta-la-kal) and there’s no more explaining needed.
It’s this near devotion to deliver a single joke that makes Jil Jung Juk a labour of love. Nothing is done lazily. When Jil proposes a plan to paint another car with cocaine again, it’s not a voiceover or a dialogue that explains it. We’re shown a Bollywood import-actress explaining the whole process in the funniest of accents in the form of a cooking show. What about that random scene where both Jung and Juk start playing a game of marbles? What can you really do with something so undramatic? But when Juk fires a flaming marble into another, pushing both of them into a secret tunnel, the background music isn’t something triumphant…it’s the nadaswaram track you hear at weddings!
Of course, all this quirkiness can get a tad bit tiring, especially towards the end, but there’s almost always something going on in the background to keep things moving. It’s also my favourite performance of Siddharth, who seems to have really got the character, especially the way he says ‘bayangaramana sciencu’, among other things, with the film’s other hero being music director Vishal Chandrasekhar.
The film is Guy Ritchie-meets-Tarantino-meets-WesAnderson-meets-Jaishankar-meets-ThiagarajanKumararaja. It is also a film that builds its world so well that we completely buy its villain walking around with a glass jar full of ants, calling them his ‘cheergirls’. You may describe the film using phrases like ‘style over substance’, ‘old wine in new bottle’, and so on. But in an industry where messages take precedence over the movie, there’s no harm in celebrating the shiny bottle it comes in, every once in a while. I mean, if a film is clever enough to use a single Goundamani-Senthil (soppana Sundari) joke as the entire backstory for a character, it deserves some loving.